Stacey Peoples is passionate about children and Cherry Creek Schools.
“Cherry Creek is in my blood,” said Peoples. She and her siblings and step-siblings all graduated from Cherry Creek schools. Her father served on the Board of Education. Her mother and step-father were both teachers in the district. Three of her own children have graduated from the district and her youngest is a CCSD third-grader.
As the district’s director of Early Childhood Education, Peoples oversees 500 employees working at 23 sites in 84 classrooms. They serve more than 1,500 preschoolers, starting them on the path to academic success.
“What happens here on that very first day of school really lays the foundation for the next 15 or 16 years of school,” Peoples said. “I love that I can make a difference.”
With a master’s degree in social work, Peoples started her career as a school social worker, then moved into administration, serving as an assistant principal and principal before taking the top job in Early Childhood Education. But around that time in 2014, her life was turned upside down.
“I was swimming with my son in a pool. I’m a longtime contact wearer and I didn’t know that you shouldn’t get contacts wet. A couple weeks later my eye started to hurt and we thought it was pink eye,” Peoples recalled. “About a month later, when I had almost lost all the sight in my left eye and was in incredible pain, a doctor diagnosed me with Acanthamoeba. A little parasite was eating through my cornea.”
Acanthamoeba are single-celled parasites that are present in all water sources. They adhere to contact lenses and then attack the wearer’s cornea. Saline does not affect them.
What followed for Peoples was seven months of excruciating pain, applying an acid-like medicine to her eye every two hours. She was confined to a dark room, unable to read or drive or care for her family.
"It was absolutely terrifying,” Peoples said. “There are months that are gone out of my memory because it was so horrific.”
But thanks to her husband, Jeff, who became “super dad,” her three older children, who took care of her youngest, and her Cherry Creek family, Peoples survived those dark days. Ten months after she was afflicted, she underwent a cornea transplant, and will forever be grateful to the donor.
“Getting a cornea transplant didn’t save my life, but it saved my quality of life,” she said. It allowed her resume being a mother and return to the job she loves. It also changed her perspective on life.
“I know what’s important now. It’s being with my family and my kids and telling people how important they are and never letting a minute go by.”
Peoples’ experience has also made her an outspoken advocate for both organ donation and making sure contact wearers know they should never, ever expose their contacts to water of any kind.
“It’s not worth the risk,” she said.